Miles Franklin (born "Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin"; 14 October 1879 – 19 September 1954) was an Australian writer and feminist, who is best known for her autobiographical novel, My Brilliant Career, published in 1901. While she wrote throughout her life, her other major literary success, All That Swagger, was not published until 1936.
She was committed to the development of a uniquely Australian form of literature, and she actively pursued this goal by supporting writers, literary journals, and writers' organisations. She has had a long-lasting impact on Australian literary life through her endowment of a major literary award known as the Miles Franklin Award.
Franklin was born at Talbingo, New South Wales and grew up in the Brindabella Valley. She was the eldest child of Australian-born parents, John Maurice Franklin and Susannah Margaret Eleanor Franklin, nee Lampe Her family was a member of the squattocracy.
Her most famous novel, My Brilliant Career, tells the story of an irrepressible teenage feminist growing to womanhood in rural New South Wales. This heroine, Sybylla Melvyn, is one of the most endearing characters in Australian literature and obviously has much in common with Franklin herself, who wrote the novel while she was still a teenager. It was published in 1901 with the support of Australian writer, Henry Lawson. After its publication, Franklin tried a career in nursing, and then as a housemaid in Sydney and Melbourne. Whilst doing this she contributed pieces to The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald under the pseudonyms "An Old Bachelor" and "Vernacular." During this period she wrote My Career Goes Bung in which Sybylla encounters the Sydney literary set. The book proved too hot to publish and did not become available to the public until 1946.
In 1906, Franklin moved to the USA and undertook secretarial work for Alice Henry, another Australian, at the National Women's Trade Union league in Chicago, and co-edited the league's magazine, Life and Labor. Her years in the U.S. are reflected in On Dearborn Street (not published until 1981), a love story that uses American slang in a manner not dissimilar to the early work of Dashiell Hammett. Also while in America she wrote Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909), the story of a small-town Australian family, which uses purple prose for deliberate comic effect.
In 1915, she travelled to England and worked in the Scottish Women's Hospital at Ostrovo in the Serbian campaigns of 1917-1918. Her life in England in the 1920s gave rise to Bring the Monkey (1933), a spoof (but with dark undertones) on the English country house mystery novel. (This book contains an interesting expansion of the concept of mateship, with two Australian adventuresses and a Hindu man forming a common front against Scotland Yard and the toffs.)
Franklin resettled in Australia in 1932 after the death of her father in 1931. During that decade she wrote several historical novels of the Australian bush. Although most of these were published under the pseudonym "Brent of Bin Bin," her masterpiece All That Swagger (1936)--a family chronicle novel packed with memorable characters--was published under her own name. New South Wales State Librarian, Dagmar Schmidmaier, said that "Miles increasingly feared that nothing she wrote matched the success of My Brilliant Career and resorted to writing under different names, including the bizarre pseudonym Brent of Bin Bin, to protect herself from poor reviews.
Throughout her life, Franklin actively supported literature in Australia. She joined the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1933 and the Sydney P.E.N. Club in 1935. She encouraged young writers such as Jean Devanny, Sumner Locke Elliott and Ric Throssell and she supported the new literary journals, Meanjin and Southerly.
In 1937, Franklin rejected an OBE.
While Miles Franklin had many suitors, she never married. She died in 1954. In her will she made a bequest for her estate to establish an annual literary award known as The Miles Franklin Award. The first winner was Patrick White with Voss in 1957.
She also had a school named after her, Miles Franklin Primary School, which is in Evatt in the ACT. Every year there they have a day to celebrate her and they have a writing competition to go with the day.
Dever writes that the letters between Dymphna Cusack and Miles Franklin that are published in Yarn Spinners "provide a see-sawing commentary on the delicate art of literary collaboration".